Nobody can stand and look out across the endless row of graves in a military cemetery and not ponder the lives lost to war. Whether the war was just and necessary, or especially if it was the foolish and ill conceived adventure of a leader ill suited to his job, the magnitude of loss, waste, and suffering is stunning.
Any visitor to Arlington National Cemetery surely comes away with a mix of feelings about war and the soldiers who fought in them, and this cemetery in particular is as appropriate a place to think about war as any, for this cemetery was created after the Civil War, after the country was ripped apart by some of the very same issues with which we grapple today.
The book’s description reads, “So does Robert Poole describe a day like so many others in the long and storied history of Arlington National Cemetery. Created towards the end of our greatest national crucible, the Civil War, its story—as revealed in On Hallowed Ground—reflects much of America’s own over the past century and a half. The mansion at its heart, and the rolling land on which it sits, had been the family plantation of Robert E. Lee before he joined the Confederacy; strategic to the defense of Washington, it became a Union headquarters, a haven for freedmen, and a burial ground for indigent soldiers before Secretary of War Edwin Stanton made it the latest in the newly established national cemetery system. It would become our nation’s most honored resting place.”
“No other country makes the effort the United States does to recover and pay tribute to its war dead—an effort Poole reveals in poignant details from the aftermaths of the Civil War, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, and the conflicts in the Gulf and Afghanistan today. Every tombstone at Arlington tells a story: from Private William Christman, the first soldier buried at Arlington on May 13, 1864, to Union General Montgomery Meigs, whose idea Arlington was; from Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, the first casualty of powered flight, to Audie Murphy, America’s most decorated soldier; from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, so lovingly tended today, to John F. Kennedy’s eternal flame; from scientists and slaves to jurists and generals and tens of thousands of ordinary citizen-warriors, among the more than 300,000 interred on Arlington’s 624 acres. Their sagas, and the rites and rituals that have evolved at Arlington—the horse-drawn caissons, marble headstones, playing of taps, and rifle salutes—speak to us all.”